Friday, February 19, 2010


While reading The Attack by Yasmina Khadra I found myself unable to emotionally detach from the events.

"The margin between assimilation and disintegration is quite narrow..." —Khadra

I take the words out of the context of the book, leave aside the thorny issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict and read those words in a broad context.

Did assimilation or disintegration begin when my ancestors came from Russia and Poland and lost part of their names to a clerk at Ellis Island?

They kept their language by speaking Yiddish to each other and lived in tenements where the aroma of gefilte fish drenched the stairwells. On Friday they prepared for Shabbos and walked to shul to chant the prayers.

They said, “Gut Shabbos.”
I say , “Shabbat Shalom”

Each generation became more American. Yiddish—lost in the mouths of their children and in the cries of those who died in gas chambers —now studied as a language with a few embers left.

Words and phrases crept into our English lexicon, savored as colorful phrases, but no longer serviceable as a complete language.

To become more American means shucking off the garments that you once wore, losing an accent, learning new vowels and consonants, while maintaining some ties.

There are losses to hanging on too dearly to accustomed ways. "The way to succeed" the old man tells his son,” is to become American."

My grandfather davened every day; my father went to shul with his father on the High Holy Days and chanted the ancient melodies. The other days his talis and yamulka sat in the top drawer of his bureau. Each generation drifted.

I read transliterated Hebrew.
I say tallit and kuppa.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

To Be a Blogger—To Open a Window

Instead of ruled journals, diaries with small keys, five year date books, bloggers communicate without a care for privacy. Some do adopt names that hide a true identity, but many list a name and details of their "real" life. They share opinions, pet peeves, rants, political bends, reviews, and the minutia of everyday life.

Friends appear and cyber friendships emerge, Comments meander the continuum from scorn to avid support. Visitors offer alternative ideas or simply become irksome visitors.

Reality lodges in cyberspace with its open door hospitality. This is true democracy. Anyone with computer access may strew words out into a void hoping to net readers.

I've visited erudite blogs, mystery blogs that remind me of forgotten mysteries needing readers, blogs of artists willing to share how to secrets, political blogs, and blogs of journal keepers who want to share their innards with the world.

Who doesn't want a reader?— someone who pays attention to our words, someone who thinks that our thinking warrants attention.

For the new year, although I understand this is February and more than a twelfth of the year is gone —shall I expend my words on topics of import or of mundane items tethered to the plausible, or to words that ricochet out of control?

A list: mourning the loss.
The loss of stamps with glue backing
and my collection of stamps from countries
with names and boundaries that wandered away

The loss of my grandparent's Polish town
buried beneath the rubble of small mindedness.
The loss of a box of photos, a chronology in black and white of my parent's lives--without deletions or extra saturation.

I mourn the loss of eating soft white bread— without remorse.
The loss of a time I ate meat without reservations, without worrying about mad cow disease, visions of cow faces.

List: Looking at Politics

It's too much of a dysfunctional family.
They all tell tales, omit bits and pieces and smile too broadly

List: Copy down overheard comments

Sometimes they don’t have dried fruit without shards of nuts
Lemon, orange and coconut--
That way he won't have to make dinner tonight.

Today I will go back to reading a biography of Lenin and ponder—
the ” what if” of history.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Listing Apologies

Toyota scrambles to fix their automotive problems while their president bows to his audience and apologizes. Is he asking forgiveness for the defective part—forgiveness for ignoring the problem for years? Forgiveness from the families of people who died while the problem lay dormant beneath a desire to will it away?

It is the same bow, without the physical act, before the unsuspecting spouse. This past year television audiences watched political figures flagellate themselves. How often the words, "I want to apologize for my actions to my family, those who voted for me..." Simply change the names and play the same tape.

Get caught. Apologize. Get caught, prostrate yourself and ask for forgiveness. It's the walk. The walk that takes you to the talk shows, to books either authored by the culprit or by the ghost or the grieved person.

When Icons fall the gossip wordmongers swoop down to recount the salacious details. Photos and videotapes air and someone always has yet another detail to share. The smallest dint in armor morphs into a rent from shoulder to shoulder.

Power corrupts. We all know that because Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” His words still retain their veracity. Pithy phrases encapsulate thoughts quickly. Why spend time pondering?


My mother was raised on the "proverbs" her mother learned in Poland or was it Russia? My grandmother lived close to the border and the border meandered— depending upon the cartographers who moved the demarcation line in tune with the artillery movements.

If I picked up a needle and thread to mend a button dangling from my sweater— my mother's gaze caught this act and she immediately said, "if you sew something you're wearing you'll sew up your brain." What did this mean? Any attempts to understand this, even in a metaphorical sense, met with "just don't do it."

I created an elaborate tale to justify the injunction. My great-grandfather was a talented tailor who made shirts for the gentry. One particular noble, pricked by a needle and short tempered, responded to the sting by warning my great-grandfather: "If you're not careful I will use that needle to have your brain sewn up into a pincushion." An unlikely tale that spawned a proverb.


Apologies. Sorry I bumped into you. Did the people who rushed into a mall, anxious to purchase drastically reduced electronics only available to the first hundred people, apologize to the person who died during their stampede?

Do countries tally up the apologies necessary at the end of the fiscal year? Innocent people killed in wars. How do you offer that apology? Collateral damage?

Words sent out can't be reined back in as if they never escaped. They take on their own life and last for years. A Hasidic rabbi likened the words sent out to the feathers in a goose feather pillow. Open the pillow and shake out the feathers and then attempt to collect them all—a Herculean task. Words, like the feathers, find the crevasses and show up for years. No white out. No delete button—only apologies and a request for forgiveness for the errant, harmful words.


I sharpen my pencil and begin my list—
I apologize for eating the last walnuts and taking the larger bowl of frozen vanilla yogurt.